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What’s next for Julian Assange? and for media freedom?

If the United States is able to be successful in the prosecution of Julian Assange, it will set a very dangerous precedent for anybody publishing any material in the public interest that exposes US military secrets.”.

A UK court has cleared Julian Assange’s extradition to the US. Here’s what happens next

The 50-year-old Australian founded the WikiLeaks website in 2006 and has been held in detention since 2019 as a lengthy legal process continues over espionage charges. SBS,  By Alexander Britton, 14 Dec 21

Attempts to see WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange face criminal charges in a United States court moved a step closer after Washington recently won an appeal over his extradition.

But the legal battle is far from over, with the legal wrangling set to continue into 2022 as Assange’s team pledged to have the case heard at the United Kingdom’s highest court.

Who is Julian Assange and why is he wanted by the US?

Julian Assange is a 50-year-old Australian who founded WikiLeaks, a site that publishes leaked materials from a variety of sources.

Set up in 2006, the site is widely known for its release of footage showing a 2007 US airstrike in Baghdad that killed journalists and civilians titled Collateral Murder

He is wanted by the US for alleged violations of the country’s Espionage Act by publishing military and diplomatic files in 2010.

Should he be convicted, the maximum jail term could be 175 years……………………

Why does the case raise media freedom concerns?

Assange’s case has “dangerous implications for the future of journalism”, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders Christophe Deloire said.

They believe he has been targeted for his contributions to journalism and is facing “possible life imprisonment for publishing information in the public interest”.

This view is shared by MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom who told SBS News: “This is an attempt by the United States to set a precedent, to intimidate the coverage of national security journalism.

“If the United States is able to be successful in the prosecution of Julian Assange, it will set a very dangerous precedent for anybody publishing any material in the public interest that exposes US military secrets.”………………………………

How have 11 years in detention impacted his health?

Assange’s legal team have raised concerns that the prolonged legal case has had a highly detrimental impact on his physical and mental health.

His fiancée Stella Moris told the UK’s Mail on Sunday that Assange had a mini-stroke during the October appeal, leaving him with memory loss and signs of neurological damage.

She was quoted by the paper as saying: “I believe this constant chess game, battle after battle, the extreme stress, is what caused Julian’s stroke on October 27.”

Doctors for Assange, a group set up in 2019, referred to Assange’s health as being in a “dire state” due to “his prolonged psychological torture”, while Nils Melzer, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, said he was “crushed as a person”. 

What has the reaction been in Australia and around the world?

Pressure has been placed on the Australian government to intervene in Assange’s case. Senator Rex Patrick urged Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to make a case to the US Secretary of State while in isolation in the country, and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said Prime Minister Scott Morrison needed to pick up the phone and “end this lunacy”.

Newspaper editorials have also made the case for Canberra to discuss the matter with counterparts in Washington and London, and international bodies have pushed for Assange’s release.

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote: “Prime Minister Scott Morrison should encourage Mr Biden to free Mr Assange. There is a strong humanitarian and pragmatic case to look for a way out of this Kafkaesque nightmare”.

Anthony Bellanger, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said the ruling was a “major blow”.

Others calling for his release have included Amnesty International, who said the “indictment poses a grave threat to press freedom both in the United States and abroad”.

What could happen now?

Following the successful appeal from the US, the judges ruled the case should return to Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a district judge to formally send it to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.

But Ms Moris has said lawyers will push for the case to be referred up to the UK’s highest court, the Supreme Court.

His legal team have also suggested New Zealand act as a peacemaker between the various parties in the case.

The group, including New Zealand-based lawyer Craig Tuck, want Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to make representations to US President Joe Biden or UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to end the “politically motivated prosecution”.

“This is something our prime minister could address by picking up the phone to president Biden or prime minister Johnson and saying, ‘Hey, enough’s enough. Let’s bury the hatchet and not in Julian’s head’,” Mr Tuck told Radio NZ.

With additional reporting from AFP and AAP.

December 14, 2021 - Posted by | Legal, secrets,lies and civil liberties, UK

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